I was trying to remember my first Christmas as an adult, the first one I didn’t celebrate at my parents’ house or my grandparents’ house.
It was 1975, although you could argue 1971 on a technicality. I was still living at home in 1971, but the rest of my family went to Russia with a tour group. I got together with three other friends — my closest friends — whose families were also away. We worked together and did a Christmas dinner at my friend Mick’s house. Mick and my two Chris friends — one Christine and one Christopher — filled out the group. I think I can safely say without fear of excessive chauvinism that we were fortunate to have a female in our group.
That was really just Christmas dinner, though. My first real Christmas in my own place, with decorations and everything, came in 1975.
We had moved into a new development outside Herndon, Va. The apartments in Stuart Woods were brand new. A one-bedroom unit was $230. It was the only apartment I ever had with its own washer and dryer. We moved there in February, we got married in April and we lived there till May 1976. She commuted to Langley and I commuted to the Ballston neighborhood in Arlington.
I don’t know if we had any problem-free years in our marriage. We were together for less than five years; we probably married too young. It’s as good an excuse for failure as any. It’s funny how 37 years later, I have little memory of where in our living room we put our Christmas tree. Maybe we didn’t. Ironically, it was the only Christmas we celebrated together in the United States. In 1976 we were in Austria and in 1977 we were in London for Christmas week.
She spent Christmas of ’78 on temporary duty in Beijing and she went to Nevada to spend the ’79 holidays with her parents. In January 1980 we split for good.
Regrets? Yes and no. I doubt that a thoughtful person could fail to regret a marriage that didn’t work, but on the other hand, I have spent the last 21 Christmases married to the real love of my life.
If there is a sadness at all, it comes when I see my two grandchildren celebrating their first Christmases, Madison in 2009 (at 15 months) and Lexington this year (at 13 1/2 months). My first Christmas with my wonderful children came when Pauline was already 12 and Virgile was nearly 8.
Seeing pictures of the grandkids with the gifts we gave them is so wonderful. In the picture here, Lex is pushing a cart we gave him for Christmas and wearing a Georgia Tech football jersey we gave him for his first birthday in November.
Christmas is pretty wonderful when you have children or grandchildren, but it was also pretty special when I was first on my own and never dreaming that a marriage could end in the most excruciating pain. I don’t think of her all that much, but there are times I wonder what it would have been like to hold a baby in my arms and know that it was my child, not my grandchild.
I am a very fortunate man. I have two wonderful children who look at me and see a father, not a stepfather. I could never love a child more than I love Pauline and Virgile, and I could never love a grandchild more than I love Maddie or Lex.
I know it all worked out for the best.
No question at all.
That doesn’t keep the “what ifs” from popping into my mind once in a while. In the end, I guess I’m only human.